The days of blatant and direct disenfranchisement — literacy tests, poll taxes, etc. — might be in the past, but there are still countless Americans who struggle to have their voices heard on Election Day. Indiana’s prison population, which was near 28,000 people as of July 1, 2015, according to the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC), is one group unable to cast a ballot. Indiana could be considered moderate compared to the rest of the country in terms of voting rights for felons. According to ProCon.org, Indiana is among 13 states (and Washington, D.C.) that restore a felon’s voting rights after the offender has served their full prison term.
Voting Blogs: 5th Circuit Decision Could Leave Hundreds of Thousands Without Right to Vote in Texas | Brad Blog
The recent decision by a unanimous three judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Veasey v. Abbott was greeted as “very good news.” After all, it marked the first occasion in which a federal appellate court made an express finding that a state-enacted polling place Photo ID law violated the provisions of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The appellate panel affirmed the lower U.S. District Court’s finding late last year that a Texas polling place Photo ID law (SB 14), which threatened to disenfranchise 608,470 already legally registered voters (and many others not already registered), disparately impacted minorities and the poor. “Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters,” the 5th Circuit appellate panel observed in their recent ruling, “were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack [the requisite Photo] ID” now required to cast a vote at the polls under the Texas law.
As an elected lawmaker and member of Myanmar’s governing party, U Shwe Maung attended dinners with the president and made speeches from the floor of Parliament. But this weekend, the country’s election commission ruled that despite more than four years in office, he was not a citizen and thus was ineligible to run for re-election in landmark voting in November. “I was approved and considered a full citizen in 2010,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Now, after five years, how could I not be eligible?” Mr. Shwe Maung’s plight is but one example of what appears to be the mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority who number around one million in Myanmar.
When civil-rights activists converge on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge next Saturday, they’ll have a bigger goal than simply commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” The 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, helped secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This year, dozens of politicians will be there to join the celebration, and activists hope to persuade them that a better way to honor Selma’s legacy is to extend the legal protections it secured. Thanks to the eponymous Oscar-nominated film, there has been no shortage of remembrances of Selma. This year’s pilgrimage, organized by the Faith and Politics Institute, will command more attention than others have in recent years. Not only will President Obama make the trip, but so will his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who signed the last renewal of the landmark law in 2006. African American leaders view the bipartisan commemoration as a crucial moment to marshal support and pressure Republican leaders for new voting-rights legislation in Congress.
Citing the disenfranchisement of Latinos under Yakima’s current council elections system, a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the city to conduct future elections using seven geographic districts — including two majority Latino districts. Under U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice’s ruling, all seven City Council positions would be placed on the ballot this year and candidates would be elected by voters solely from within their district. Under the ruling, candidates would no longer be voted on citywide. The ruling comes in a voting rights lawsuit filed more than two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Latino residents. Rice, of the Eastern District Court of Washington, ruled in August that the city’s hybrid election system of at-large and district voting routinely “suffocates” the will of Latino voters.
Editorials: The Mystery of Lower Voter Registration for Older Black Voters | Nate Cohn/New York Times
In December, I wrote an article titled “Evidence That the Jim Crow Era Endures for Older Black Voters in the South.” The article, based on voter registration and census data in Georgia, noted that older black voters who reached voting age before the passage of the Voting Rights Act were significantly less likely to be registered to vote compared with whites of similar age and black voters who reached voting age in the years afterward. The implication, I wrote, was that black registration and turnout rates were suppressed by the lingering effects of Jim Crow laws, which disenfranchised African-American voters. The evidence underlying that statement is research suggesting that voting is a habit. Therefore, someone with fewer opportunities to register and vote should be less likely to vote than a similar person who had more opportunities.
Editorials: Mandatory Voting, Killing Electoral College Would Diversify Electorate | Stephen Wolf/The New Republic
The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, over white police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, brought attention to a curious disparity. While two-thirds of the St. Louis suburb was black, its local government was almost entirely white. One culprit was simple: voter turnout. In the preceding local election, 6 percent of black voters cast ballots, compared to 17 percent of white voters, narrowly yielding a white-majority electorate. The resulting racial disparities on the city council were as predictable as they were dire. Two generations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other Great Society reforms, America’s electoral system still suffers from the legacy of Jim Crow: Our political officials and public policies don’t represent the diversity and interests of the country’s large and growing share of non-white citizens. Improving voter turnout is the most obvious solution to this problem, but doing so will require uncharacteristic boldness from our politicians. One of the biggest structural factors keeping turnout low is that the majority of cities nationwide—Ferguson included—hold elections at times that don’t coincide with federal or state elections. Since non-white voters skip non-presidential elections in higher numbers than white voters, moving local and state elections to the quadrennial presidential cycle would painlessly, efficiently increase turnout and produce a more representative electorate across the ballot. As a bonus, holding fewer elections would save money.
Many people have understandably blamed low turnout for the Democratic Party‘s misfortune on Nov. 4, but some have gone a step further. They argue that turnout was so low because of voter suppression, particularly laws requiring voters to present photo identification. They assert that these laws disenfranchised enough voters to decide several elections, even a Kansas governor’s contest where a Republican won by four percentage points. Voter ID laws might well be a cynical, anti-democratic attempt to disenfranchise voters to help Republicans, as Democrats claim. But that doesn’t mean that voter ID laws are an effective way to steal elections. They just don’t make a difference in anything but the closest contests, when anything and everything matters. This may come as a surprise to those who have read articles hyperventilating about the laws. Dave Weigel at Slate in 2012 said a Pennsylvania voter identification law might disenfranchise 759,000 registered voters, a possibility he described as “an apocalypse.” Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was reversed before the election, but it is not hard to see why so many thought it could be decisive when Mr. Obama won the state with a 309,840 vote margin. But the so-called margin of disenfranchisement — the number of registered voters who do not appear to have photo identification — grossly overstates the potential electoral consequences of these laws.
His mailbox has been stuffed with campaign letters, his TV plastered with political ads. But Brian Wright of Louisville won’t be casting a ballot Tuesday in Kentucky’s election. He’s among an estimated 7.4 percent of voting-age Kentuckians — including 22.3 percent of black voting-age residents — barred from casting ballots because of a felony conviction, a disenfranchisement rate that is third-highest in the nation, according to the Sentencing Project, a reform advocacy group. “I want to have a voice,” said Wright, 33, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to drug possession, receiving five years of probation and losing the ability to vote. Kentucky is one of only four states where all felons permanently lose their right to vote unless it is restored by the governor, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. He argued the state’s high exclusion rate is “quite likely to have a real impact on elections.”
By this time next week we should know which party controls the Senate, if marijuana for medical use will be legal in Florida and if Rick Scott will be governor here for another four years. Voters will help decide those things. But more than five million voting-age tax-paying U.S. citizens will not be allowed to due to felony disenfranchisement. It’s an issue that affects 1 in 10 voting age residents in the state of Florida. 12 states restrict voting rights after felons have served their time and the sunshine state tops the list of people affected. “I made some bad choices in life,” said Keith Ivey. He served 8 1/2 years in prison for fraud. Ivey was released in January of 2012 but says he feels like his past continues to dictate his future. “I pay taxes, I run a business, but I have no voice,” said Ivey, who cannot vote.
National: An estimated 5.9 million voting-age Americans won’t be able to vote next Tuesday | The Washington Post
Next Tuesday, tens of millions of Americans will take to the polls to vote on everything from ballot issues to federal, state and local representation. But millions of voting-age adults will be sitting this one out. An estimated 5.85 million Americans won’t be able to vote due to prior felony convictions, according to an estimate from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit think tank. Of those, roughly 44 percent are estimated to be felons who live in the 12 states that still restrict voting rights after sentences have been served, a practice that excludes as many as 1 in 10 voting-age residents of Florida, the state with the highest rates of felon disenfranchisement. Such policies have a disproportionate impact on blacks, restricting the vote for roughly 1 in 13 voting-age blacks nationwide.
Friday’s U.S. court ruling that breathed new life into Wisconsin’s voter ID law is a “recipe for chaos” that will cause “extraordinary disenfranchisement” this fall, voting rights advocates are warning as they push for a rehearing of the case. “If this law is not stopped now from being implemented in November, it will cause irreparable harm to the 300,000 plus voters who lack ID,” John Ulin, a lawyer for Arnold and Porter who represents plaintiffs in the case, told reporters Wednesday. Late Tuesday, challengers to the law filed court documents asking that the full 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals take a second look at Friday’s ruling reinstating the law. That ruling, the brief argues, “imposes a radical, last-minute change to procedures for conducting an election that is already underway.” Friday’s ruling was made by a three-judge panel of the court, all of whom were appointed by Republicans. The strict GOP-backed voter ID law had been on hold since not long after being passed in 2012, and was a struck down in April by a federal district court judge, who ruled that it violated the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting.
District of Columbia: D.C.’s statehood movement gets an inch, takes a proverbial mile on Capitol Hill | The Washington Post
Along the walk underground from the Capitol to the Dirksen Senate Building, you traverse a long, soulless hallway with a mini train track. As the path curves around, a flag of each state hangs with a corresponding circular crest. Each state’s flag hangs in the order of its admission to the United States. Ten feet separate the flags from one another along the corridor where staffers and lawmakers shuffle between buildings. Imagine a proletariat’s version of the Kennedy Center’s Hall of States. It was in the Dirksen building that Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) held a hearing to discuss a bill granting D.C. statehood. A small step, yes, but an important one in the grind against disenfranchisement. It wasn’t much, but those who spoke for the city did so with aplomb. The case against statehood has never looked so ridiculous. The basic underpinnings of the cause to keep D.C. from statehood are rooted in nothing but privilege and tradition, not logic. And ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proved exactly that with his cavalier attitude toward the proceedings, snarky dismissal of the city’s chances of making it through the system, and early departure from the hearing. His approach screamed: “I don’t care because I don’t have to.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is alleging that at least 282 ballots in the state’s June 3 primary election were not counted due to Alabama’s law requiring voters to show a valid photo identification card. In a letter dated today to Jean W. Brown, the Alabama Secretary of State’s chief legal adviser, the group raised concerns about disenfranchisement associated with the identification law during the primary election — the first statewide contest with the requirement. The organization obtained the figure after trying to contact election officials in each of Alabama’s 67 counties. Of the 49 counties that provided full or partial responses, the group determined that at least 282 voters “went uncounted solely due to the failure of otherwise eligible voters to provide ID,” according to the letter. The group’s figures included six in-person provisional ballots uncounted due to no photo identification and another 276 that were labeled as uncounted absentee ballots lacking an ID card.
Lawyers from the Justice Department and a variety of civic groups appeared at an Asheville, North Carolina, federal courthouse this week, seeking an injunction that would delay portions of a state voting law from going into effect before the midterm elections this November. At issue are a reduction in days for early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration and a prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. (The most controversial provision, a photo ID requirement, does not go into effect until 2016.) Now a judge will decide if those elements should be delayed or implemented at all.
When Alan Langley, a Republican member of the local elections board here, explains a new proposal to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounds procedural and well-meaning: He speaks of convenient parking and wheelchair access at the proposed polling places, and of saving more than $10,000 per election. Those precincts, however, are rich with black voters who generally vote Democratic. And when the Rev. Dante Murphy, the president of the Cleveland County N.A.A.C.P. chapter, discusses the plan, he talks of “disenfranchisement” and “conspiracy.” “We know,” Mr. Murphy said, “that this is part of a bigger trend — a movement to suppress people’s right to vote.”
One of the ugliest stains on democracy in this country is the fact that an estimated 2.6 million Americans who have committed a felony are not allowed to vote — even after they have served their sentence. This mass disenfranchisement disproportionately afflicts minority, especially black, communities. Until recently, almost no prominent Republicans cared to address the problem, seeing little political advantage in registering former inmates — especially minorities — whom they regarded as a largely Democratic electorate. In a dozen mostly GOP-tilting states, some or all felons remain barred from voting even after finishing with parole and probation.
At least 12 Iowa residents wrongly had their ballots rejected in the 2012 presidential election because of inaccuracies in the state’s list of ineligible felons, a review found Friday. Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced that nine additional cases of improper disenfranchisement were found during a review launched after it was reported in January that three voters were disenfranchised because of bureaucratic mistakes. The new cases include people who weren’t felons but were wrongly included on the list and former offenders who had their voting rights restored and should have been removed.
District of Columbia: It’s Disenfranchisement When Independents Can’t Vote in Primaries | The Daily Beast
District of Columbia voters went to the polls Tuesday, a few of them anyway, to vote in mayoral and city council primary elections. Unfortunately, although I am a Washington resident, I was not one of them. My non-participation wasn’t due to a lack of interest but because I am an Independent voter. The DC Board of Elections officially lists my party affiliation as “No Party.” It’s a non-affiliation I claim proudly but it comes with a price. Like many millions of other unaffiliated voters around the country I am prevented from exercising the right to vote in partisan primary elections. The outcome of Tuesday’s election will have a significant impact on the future direction of the city and I would have liked to weigh in. Current Mayor Vincent Gray is facing probable indictment on corruption charges—five people who were connected with his 2010 campaign have already pleaded guilty to felonies related to that campaign.
In Florida, more than one in five black adults can’t vote. Not because they lack citizenship or haven’t registered, but because they have, at some point, been convicted of a felony. The Sunshine State’s not alone. As in Florida, more than 20 percent of black adults have lost their right to vote in Kentucky and Virginia, too, according to the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for reforms to sentencing policy that reduces racial disparities. Three states — Florida, Iowa and Kentucky — ban anyone who has ever received a felony conviction from voting. But many other states have weaker disenfranchisement laws—ones that ban those currently serving sentences or those on parole or probation. And Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called on them to rethink the “unnecessary and unjust” policies.
It goes without saying that one of the cornerstones of a functioning, modern, liberal democracy is universal suffrage. However, it appears that headlines across the state of Iowa are ringing with actions committed by state officials, which undermine that noble principle. This past week, a Republican official in Cerro Gordo County reported that mistakes made by state election officials led to three voters being barred from voting because they were incorrectly labeled as disenfranchised felons (two of the voters were felons who had had their voting rights restored, while the third was not a felon). This incident is just an anecdote amid Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s overzealous crackdown on the nonexistent threat of voter fraud, a crusade we have often criticized on this page. Firstly, it’s important to note that it is fundamentally immoral to deny anyone the right the vote, even if a citizen committed some sort of criminal offense. Free societies don’t strip their citizens of basic democratic freedoms. Authoritarian regimes do that.
In just a few weeks Minnesotans will attend their party caucuses as part of the process of selecting the candidates who will run for governor and other constitutional offices, U.S. Senator and House of Representatives, and the Minnesota House of Representatives, among other positions. Yet if the past is any indication of what will happen, very few individuals will attend these caucuses–some by choice–but others will be excluded by economic or practical necessity, without the option of participating by absentee voting or through technologies that would make it possible to engage, even halfway around the world. The exclusionary nature of Minnesota’s caucus system questions what the right to vote really means. Who gets to participate in our political system and how is among the topics I address in my new book, Election Law and Democratic Theory, published this month by Ashgate Publishing. It is if not the first at least one of the first books that makes a simple argument–election law are the rules that make democracy possible.
A combination of lax enforcement in the state’s election code, a faulty voter registration system and lack of leadership by state election officials have led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Texans who faced challenges while registering to vote in the 2012 elections, according to a report the Texas Civil Rights Project released on Monday. The TCRP’s report largely focused on what the organization calls a problematic lack of enforcement power in the office of the state’s top election official, the Secretary of State, and calls on the Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to give officials there the ability to enforce voter registration procedures at the state and local levels. The Texas Secretary of State’s office said while it does not have enforcement authority, it does educate and work with entities that carry out voter registration and ensure that voters are able to cast ballots. The report outlines several recommendations to improve voter registration, including additional oversight of state agencies that are required by law to register individuals who apply for state services.
National: Curtailed Voting Rights Act To Be Tested In Disenfranchisement Lawsuits Across US | MintPress News
In Wisconsin, the first test of the Voting Rights Act post-Shelby County v. Holder is underway. Since the controversial ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in June — in which the court ruled that the federal preclearance formula used to prevent racist voter suppression in certain states and communities is dated and unconstitutional — nine states have moved to introduce stricter voting laws — including harsher requirements for voter identification, restrictions on absentee and early voting and limiting access to voting places. Wisconsin is the first state the Justice Department has sued under Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits states from limiting voting access to federally recognized protected groups and permits the Justice Department to file suit on the basis of racial, ethnic, age, gender, sexual preference or disability discrimination at the polling place. Wisconsin passed a law requiring a state-issued photo ID be presented in order to vote. This, in turn, would require a birth certificate, which many minorities do not have access to. Additionally, out-of-state college students might not have access to a state ID. … In one of the two challenges being heard, the American Civil Liberties Union argues that Ruthelle Frank, an 86-year-old resident of Brokaw, Wis., and a member of the Brokaw Village Board since 1996, is being unfairly discriminated against because — although the state Register of Deeds bears a record of her live birth — the record has her maiden name incorrectly spelled. As a result, all of her vital certifications would be inadequate under the law toward obtaining a voting ID, while correcting the error would be costly for an elderly woman on a fixed budget. The ACLU argues that the Wisconsin law places Frank under an undue financial burden in order to exercise her right to vote.
While most of the focus on the recently implemented Texas voter ID law has been related to allegations of racial discrimination, some onlinereports have recently raised concerns that the law could disenfranchise a different demographic: people who have legally changed their names, particularly women. But election officials say the concerns are unwarranted. The media reports suggest that voters who lack an ID updated to reflect their legal name could be turned away from the polls. Women, who often change their name after marriage or divorce, are at a higher risk of disenfranchisement under the voter ID law, those reports say. But election officials deny the risk, saying protocols are in place for cases in which the name on a person’s voter ID is not identical to his or her legal name. “We encourage poll workers to look at the entirety of the ID,” said Alicia Pierce, spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state’s office. “If the names are similar but not identical, you sign an affidavit saying you’re the same person.”
Here we go again. As we gear up for another election, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has announced another attempt at purging the state’s voter rolls of non-U.S. citizens. Hark back to last year’s voter purge debacle, in which the state’s list of targeted non-U.S. citizens began at 182,000, shrank to 2,600, and was further reduced to 198. The county supervisors of election stopped the effort shortly before voting started for the presidential election. A mere 85 of Florida’s 12 million registered voters were removed from the rolls — hardly a matter requiring drastic action or worth risking disenfranchisement. Furthermore, it is unclear whether any of those individuals had actually voted. The 2012 voter purge was marred by faulty lists, heavy-handedness from Tallahassee, a disregard for the county election supervisors and a plethora of lawsuits and costly legal actions. Many supervisors were embarrassed to be part of the state’s sloppy and ill-timed efforts.
Mark Wandering Medicine has sacrificed more than most for his country. He served six years in the US marines, fought through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam war and almost lost a leg when his scouting unit was ambushed near the North Vietnamese border in 1972. Since he returned home to the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana, however, he has received scant thanks for his service. He spent 13 years battling government bureaucrats before receiving his first disability payment. Like many Native Americans raised on desperately poor reservations in remote parts of the country, he has never lived far from the poverty line. Now he is fighting once more, this time to overcome a century and a half of disenfranchisement and secure voting rights for his fellow Native Americans. He has barely voted over the past 40 years, not because he hasn’t wanted to but because it is too difficult. The only sure way to register to vote, he says, is to make a 157-mile round trip from his home to the nearest county seat. There is no public transport, and most people can’t afford the trip – even assuming they have a working car with valid license plates and insurance, which is rarely the case. The few who do make the journey have to run a gamut of racism and hostility that, they say, can often land them in jail on charges of drunkenness and public disorder.
A landmark ruling by a United Nations body found that Hungary’s voting laws are disenfranchising people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling applies to all 137 countries that have adopted the international disability rights treaty. These governments are required to review their laws and practices to eliminate any provisions that prevent people from voting due to their disabilities. The UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the panel of experts who interpret the international disability rights treaty, ruled that Hungary’s restriction on the right for people with intellectual disabilities to vote violates international human rights law. Under the recently amended Hungarian constitution, people under guardianship are automatically excluded from voting unless a judge determines they have the capacity to vote. The ruling said that any exclusion of the right to vote on the basis of “perceived or actual disability,” whether as a general rule or following an individual assessment, was discrimination in violation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Instead it said governments were under a duty to ensure all people with disabilities could exercise their right to vote, including in the way they design voting procedures and in providing assistance where necessary.
The struggle to protect the fundamental right to vote for people with a felony conviction is nothing new in this country, but has now reached a crisis level. Almost six million people are denied the right to vote because of felon disfranchisement laws that perpetuate racial and economic disparities by excluding citizens from the democratic process even after they have paid their debt to society. Last week none other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came out in favor of restoring the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated. The result is of the injustice of felony disenfranchisement is that people, especially people of color, are legally barred from participating in our system of government, and denied a say in the issues that impact their communities. Factors that contribute to so many people’s involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place are then rarely addressed.
Editorials: Electronic voting won’t solve the two biggest problems with the Australian system | Luke Mansillo/Sydney Morning Herald
Americans love their democracy. As soon as one election is over people start campaigning for the next one two or four years away. There is no other nation on this planet as keen on elections as Americans. In 2000 Arizona held a primary election with the option of internet voting. This was a world first and was thought to completely revolutionise voting as it was the first legally binding public election. The only problem was all Macintosh computers failed to register a vote when users thought they had registered a vote. People were not happy to have their democratic right as a citizen taken off them because of the technology. This disenfranchisement and failure of the voting system is a major reason why we do not universally have internet voting or other forms of electronic voting today. Electronic voting also has drawbacks. It was detailed after the 2000 Florida Presidential election when the new computer ballot system in some of the counties did not leave any paper trail. This did not allow a manual hand recount when the need arose. No computer system is foolproof. Computer systems can have errors or a polling place may lose power. If there is no paper trail there is no way to check and verify a count.